If there is one thing that Major League Baseball learned last year was that the Pirates are not a laughing stock. Their progression as a team set the perception that they have a product to build upon. The Pirates have 2 Sure spots in the future one being the outfield (McCutchen, Marte, and the 2014 arrival of Gregory Polanco) and the depth of the whole pitching staff. Outside of that there are spots where the Pirates have to secure before it is too late.
4. Begin Talks With Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez
Both of these players have seen the Ups and downs of Pittsburgh and played crucial roles to the teams success in 2013. Pedro Alvarez posted a 3.3 W.A.R and led the National League in Homeruns with 35. As for Neil Walker he achieved a 3.9 W.A.R and improved defensively as he saved 9 runs last year. Critics have criticized Walker because of poor defense, however last season he showed bright spots. In today’s MLB Pedro Alvarez would earn over 20 million a year if he elected free agency, even Neil Walker could approach double digits. While I am not insisting the Pirates be urgent on this, however it must be a priority that they at the very least get the ball rolling with these two. The later the wait the less chance they stay and for a small market team the margin of error is small.
3. Improve Starling Marte’s plate discipline
Starling Marte is undoubtedly a major league outfielder. His defensive range is exceptional along with his potential, but with his current role as the lead-off hitter he must make smarter decisions. I will compare Starling Martes walks to strikeout ratio with a similar player, Desmond Jennings. Martes walks to strikeouts were 25/138 respectively to Jennings 64/115. Having patience at the plate is more than just strikeouts and walks. It is getting deep into counts and forcing the opposing pitcher to work. If Marte can develop more patience he will get on base more which in turn leads to more runs.
2. Reevaluate the Bullpen
The Pittsburgh Pirates were at the top of the league in one run wins and the bullpen plays a crucial part in that. Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli both excelled expectations and then some. In all likelihood their success will not be duplicated, however maintaining similar success is doable. Everyone works better when their job is in jeopardy per say. Both Tony Watson and Justin Wilson have potential and have shown they can perform in key moments. Something to watch out for is Edinson Volquez. While he is not someone who is going to be a Fransico Liriano, he can still eat innings and keep the bullpen out of the game. Ultimately can Jason Grilli regain his form before the arm injury and will Mark Melancon not become the next victim of Steve Blass Syndrome?
1. First Base
Every major league fan, owner, and manager knows for a fact that Gaby Sanchez is not an everyday first basemen. Platooning was cute last year, but this year people will take the Pirates more seriously. Increases in revenue heightens the risk you can take. Sure the Buccos missed out on James Loney and others but Kendrys Morales must be acquired. He has a bat that could send balls flying out of PNC into the Allegheny. Substituting him for a more defensive option later in the game can always be done, but the bat he brings to the table cannot be turned down. A solid argument would be that the Pirates would have to give up a first round pick in compensation. While that is true it is only 25th pick and in a situation like this win now must be the motive.
If the Pirates want a repeat of 2013 and maintained fan support they must address at least 3/4 of the above mentioned topics. Teams will give the Pirates their best shot. How will they respond? Who knows but at this point all that can be done is have faith in Neil Huntington.